ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, the conservative Republican U.S. Senate candidate, quickly backed off comments that aired earlier Sunday, in which he told an interviewer that a woman's body "has ways" to prevent pregnancy during rape and that such pregnancies are "really rare."
Akin, a six-term congressman running against incumbent Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill, was asked in an interview that aired Sunday on St. Louis television station KTVI if there were any circumstances in which he would support a woman's decision to have an abortion.
Akin, who has said he's Missouri's most conservative congressman, indicated there may be an exception to his stance against abortion. But, when asked if he supported abortions for women who have been raped, Akin said: "It seems to me first of all from what I understand from doctors that's really rare."
"If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," Akin said of a rape victim's chances of becoming pregnant.
He also said he would prefer that punishment for rape be focused on the rapist and not "attacking the child."
Akin said in an emailed statement later Sunday that he "misspoke" during the interview, though the statement did not say specifically which points.
"In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year," Akin's statement said. "Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve."
Akin also said in the statement he believes "deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action."
Akin was interviewed on KTVI's "The Jaco Report," and also talked about numerous campaign issues, such as voter ID laws, the economy and Medicare. KTVI said the interview was conducted earlier in the week.
McCaskill, who is seeking a second term, said in an emailed statement Sunday that she found the comments "offensive."
"It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape," McCaskill said. "The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive."
McCaskill also quickly took to Twitter to decry Akin's comments, saying that "As a woman & former prosecutor who handled 100s of rape cases, I'm stunned by Rep Akin's comments about victims this AM."
This month, Akin won the state's Republican U.S. Senate primary by a comfortable margin of victory. During the primary, Akin enhanced his standing with TV ads in which former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee praised him as "a courageous conservative" and "a Bible-based Christian" who "supports traditional marriage" and "defends the unborn."
Akin, a former state lawmaker who first won election to the U.S. House in 2000, also has a long-established base among evangelical Christians, and was endorsed in the primary by more than 100 pastors.
Within hours of Akin's win, McCaskill had cast him as a conservative extremist who would jeopardize seniors' health care and retirement savings while putting college out of reach for all but the rich.
Akin countered by portraying McCaskill - one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the nation - as a budget-busting, tax-hiking, big-spending liberal.